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Are you the type of person who takes immediate action, confident that you’ve chosen the right path?
Or, are you more the type of person who needs to ask for everyone’s opinion – your friends, family, spirit guides, therapist, the stranger in line at the grocery store – before you take even the smallest step toward your goals?
Or perhaps it’s a combination of both. In some cases, you feel really clear about your next steps or decisions that you’re making, but when it comes to the major things, like finding your life purpose, you can’t seem to get the clarity you’re seeking.
The good news is: there’s only one path.
No matter if you think you made the wrong decision, or that you’re on the wrong path, or taking the wrong actions, you’re exactly where you’re meant to be.
You can build trust your inner compass through self-awareness and aligned introspection.
Self-awareness is the conscious experience of your thoughts, emotions, reactions, and behaviors. It’s a deep knowing of who you are and what drives you.
It’s important to see yourself clearly, for who you really are, especially when it comes to finding and living your purpose or achieving your biggest goals and dreams.
Aligned introspection is a method to improve your self-awareness and find clarity in your path through reflection, listening, and taking action.
While simple, it takes time and commitment to cultivate this powerful inner knowing and deep confidence in yourself and who you are.
Here’s how you can improve your self-awareness to get clear on your goals:
1. Get curious about yourself
The first step in improving your self-awareness is to get really curious about yourself. Who are you? What makes you get out of bed in the morning? What keeps you up at night? What are your hopes, dreams, fears and concerns?
One way to learn more about yourself is through taking personality assessments. I highly recommend taking the free 16 Personalities assessment, adapted from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. It helps you understand how you take in and express energy, how you relate to the world, and what you need to stay motivated and productive.
I also recommend taking the Gallup Strengths Finder assessment. I always have my clients start with these two assessments, because it gives us a common language to understand one another. In that vein, it will give you a common language to understand yourself. Sometimes, it’s difficult to describe ourselves, especially when we try to consider our strengths or achievements or what we’re naturally good at. These assessments objectively point these things out for you and allow us to reflect on who you are.
Another way to get curious about yourself is to ask yourself high-mileage coaching questions.
Coaching is designed to help you think more objectively about yourself, your life, your goals, and how you can best achieve them.
You can leverage powerful coaching questions to learn more about yourself and open your mind to new perspectives and opportunities, even without hiring a coach!
Here are a few questions to get you started?
When do you get the most excited, motivated and feel the most alive in life?
When in your work do you feel the most engaged, fulfilled and energised? Why? What were you doing?
What’s important to you about your work?
If you had to have one, what would be your own personal definition of success?
Where are you most sabotaging yourself from achieving your ideal future?
What is missing from your life right now?
2. Spend time in reflection
Perhaps the most important part of building self-awareness is spending time in reflection. You could start with the self-coaching questions above, or look for guided journal prompts to help you start a journaling practice.
Journaling is one of the best ways to connect to your intuition and emotions. Journaling improves your mind-body connection, because the act of writing transmutes your thoughts and feelings onto the page, connecting your inner realm to your reality. This connection is what self-awareness is about.
And, by physically writing down your thoughts and feelings, you can examine them from a new perspective. They're no longer swimming around your brain; they're words on paper that you can read and reflect on.
Journaling is an important tool to improve your self-awareness and give yourself the time and space needed for reflection. A great way to do this is through free writing.
Free writing can help you make sense of what you’re feeling, especially when you aren’t sure how to describe it. It can lead to a sense of calm once you’ve worked through your feelings, because it allows you to address what you need to. Free writing helps you find solutions to the things you’re struggling with and gain perspective on how you react to different situations.
To start free writing, you can simply do a brain dump of every negative or stressful thought in your head. Write down anything that comes to mind, or anything you'd like to process.
Once you’re complete, go back and read through everything you wrote, then answer the following questions:
What came up for you?
Did you notice any themes or patterns in your writing?
How do you feel reading through your words?
What do you know now that you didn’t know before doing this exercise?
How will you move forward from here?
3. Listen inward and outward
Once you’ve spent time thinking and reflecting, it’s time to get quiet and listen. First, by listening inward, then by listening outward.
Journaling and meditation are excellent spiritual tools for aligned introspection, and you can continue to develop your inner wisdom through prayer, mantras, reading spiritual texts, or practicing Tarot.
At its most basic, aligned introspection is about paying attention, noticing the signs, messages, experiences, and emotions of the present moment. It’s rooted in mindfulness and presence. All you need to start is your intent.
My partner, Shaun, learnt this concept in a tai chi and qigong classes: “Where your intent goes, energy goes; where energy goes, movement goes.”
So, in practicing aligned introspection, when you pay attention to what you’re thinking or how you’re feeling in any given moment, your intent is on the present. Here, you can start to notice energy in terms of signs or messages, but also your embodied energy or emotions, when it comes to taking an action or making a decision.
Does this feel like the right decision? Does it feel like something you want to do for yourself, or does it feel like something you “should” do, or something someone else wants?
If it helps, you can check in with yourself or do a quick body scan. We sometimes feel sensations in our body before our brain recognizes the emotions associated with those sensations.
Do you carry tension in your head? Your neck or shoulders? Your lower back? When you feel anxious, do you feel it in your chest or your stomach?
When you pay attention to the sensations in your body, you'll notice stress and anxiety before it manifests as an emotion, and you can use these cues to feel into the decisions you make.
You can also listen outward by checking in with your therapist, religious figure, mentor, or support group. Sometimes, it helps to get a different perspective on our goals and decisions.
This outside counsel can also keep you grounded in your self-awareness. You may have trouble connecting the dots for yourself or seeing patterns in your reactions or behaviors. An outside, third party can serve as your mirror, reflecting back to you the things you can’t see for yourself.
4. Make values-driven decisions
Roy E. Disney said, “When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier.”
Core values are the fundamental beliefs you have about your life.
They guide your behaviors, decisions, and actions. They bring about a sense of purpose and self-worth. They remind you what’s important to you and what you want more of in your life.
When you know what’s important to you, you can live in alignment with those values. This leads to greater fulfillment, clarity and self-awareness.
For example, if one of your values is flexibility, you might be drawn to jobs with greater work-life balance, or even to starting your own business so you can make your own hours. If one of your values is faith, you may live in accordance with your personal religious or spiritual beliefs as your guide, making decisions based on your deep beliefs and traditions.
Values remind you who you are and who you’re meant to be in the world. They’re gentle guide rails to keep us on our path and help us choose actions that are aligned with what we really want. This is values-driven decision-making.
To make decisions based on your values, first you’ll need to identify them. Start by thinking about the times you were the most happy, proud, or fulfilled: what were you doing? What contributed to these feelings? Start listing the words and phrases that come to mind.
Once you have a good list, see if you can combine any of the values on your list to start narrowing down to your top five. For example, if you value philanthropy, generosity, kindness, and community service, you could combine those into a single “giving back” or “serving others” value.
Why five? Well, if everything’s important, nothing is important. Keeping your list to five core values allows you to easily weigh options, make decisions, and align your actions with your purpose. Once you have your top five, write them somewhere you’ll see them every day, as a reminder of how you want to align your decisions.
From there, grab your journal and write about how you see these values showing up for you in your daily life. Try this exercise every day for a week to uncover themes and patterns in the decisions you make or the actions you take at work and in your personal life.
Where did you make decisions based on your values? How did that feel or compare to times when you made decisions without your values in mind?
Then, when you have a decision to make, or are wondering what next steps you need to take to achieve your goal, come back to your values. If one of your values is integrity, what would someone of the highest integrity do in your situation? If one of your values is relationships, how might you lean on this value to call in the support you need to move forward?
As you become clearer on how your values show up and shape your life, you’ll start to find a natural alignment in the decisions you’re making. They won’t feel as forced or uncomfortable, and you’ll start to find more flow in your path.
5. Take aligned action
True clarity comes from taking aligned action.
What’s aligned action? It’s any action you take that’s in line with your goals, strengths, values, or what you want to achieve.
For example, if you’re in career transition, or you’re searching for your dream job, aligned action might look like updating your resume or LinkedIn profile, reaching out to recruiters, talking to friends who work in a similar field, or practicing your interviewing skills.
Or, if you have a goal to make an extra $1,000 per month, aligned action might look like reviewing your budget to see if you have any subscriptions you can cancel, starting a side hustle, asking for a raise, or paying off your credit card bills. Any of those actions are aligned to your goal.
When you take action, you get immediate feedback, whether you realize it or not. That feedback will tell you if you want to keep going with those steps or take a different turn.
Sometimes, we have to learn the hard way to gain the clarity we seek.
I learned this firsthand in 2014 when I shifted my business to health coaching. I thought it would be more in alignment with my experience as a healthcare executive and my passion for wellbeing. So, I got certified in health coaching, revamped my entire website, and started coaching clients on their health goals.
And it felt awful. I didn’t feel like myself – I felt so inauthentic giving people nutrition advice. I dreaded getting on the phone with clients, and I hated writing detailed recipes for healthy meals.
I was shocked – surely health coaching was in alignment with who I am? But it wasn’t. And it took my actually going down that path to realise that wellbeing comes in many forms. I can still use my health coaching certification to help women find wellbeing – because it’s not just limited to physical health.
Finding your purpose and greater fulfillment in your life is its own form of wellbeing. So even though it felt like I was on the wrong path, by taking aligned action, I got the clarity I needed to take a different step toward living my purpose.
You won’t always learn the hard way. Sometimes, you’ll take action and receive immediate, positive feedback. Whether from those you serve, or your own inner wisdom. Pay attention to how you feel after taking that step – can you see yourself continuing with that action?
This feedback, these feelings, are the data you need to strengthen your self-awareness and find clarity on your path.
Self-awareness is the foundation for any change you want to make in your life. Getting clear on who you are and what’s important to you will help you build the clarity and confidence you need to achieve your highest dreams and goals.
Take action now: Start by getting curious with yourself. Take some personality tests, identify your passions, and ask yourself some powerful self-coaching questions. Another great place to start is to identify your core values. From there, you can follow the other steps to deepen your trust in your inner wisdom through aligned introspection and take the steps in alignment with your goals and purpose.